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GEORGE WASHINGTON (1732-99)
The great-grandson of an English settler, Washington was born in Virginia. He first became a land surveyor but also studied military strategy, and in the 1750s served in the colonial army fighting the French in the Ohio valley.
Soon after the American Revolutionary War against British rule began, the Congress of American colonies appointed as commander-in-chief of its army General George Washington. He drove the British from Boston, encouraging Congress to formalize the end of British authority. On 4 July 1776 Congress passed the Declaration of Independence, signed by representatives from all 13 states. It said that the united colonies were, and should remain, free and independent states. Five years of fighting followed in which Washington and his generals won most battles.
After the Declaration of Independence, the British acted to crush rebellion. Together with German hired soldiers, they drove George Washington's army from New York State, over the border at the river Delaware. But on Christmas night 1776, Washington led soldiers back across the frozen Delaware, and attacked an enemy camp at Trenton.
Washington's daring attack across the Delaware ended the fighting for the winter. When it began again in 1777, the British were once more on the attack. They captured the colonial capital, Philadelphia, but didn't do as well farther north. At Saratoga American armies surrounded troops that had attacked from Canada. They forced the British general John Burgoyne to surrender, on 17 October. This victory helped persuade the French to recognize American independence. Four months later the French joined the war against Britain.
The American army camped for the winter of 1777-8 at Valley Forge, north-west of Philadelphia. Washington's exceptional leadership kept spirits up, and German officer Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben trained the troops. The tactics and discipline he taught the soldiers helped them to defeat the British in the final years of the war.
Washington trapped the British at Yorktown with a perfectly timed plan. A French and colonists' army marched from New York to join French commander Lafayette at Yorktown. A French fleet sailed into nearby Chesapeake Bay and up the York River. Surrounded by land and sea, the British surrendered. As they threw down their weapons, an American band underlined their defeat by playing a tune called 'The World Turned Upside Down'.
Washington was elected first President of the United States in 1789 and served two four-year terms. The last years were marred by disputes between Federalists, who believed in strong central government, and Republicans, who stressed individual and state rights. In 1796 Washington refuse to become president for a third term.
Washington was known as 'Father of the Nation', and was praised after his death as 'first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen'.
The capital city and the north-westernmost state of the USA are both named after Washington. His portrait appears on the American one-dollar bill and twenty-five-cent coin. His face, along with those of Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt, was carved in a granite cliff of Mount Rushmore between 1927 and 1941.
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